The Germans do Christmas better – and homelessness - Vladimir McTavish

​​Last weekend, I was over in Berlin doing shows. Germany’s capital is a buzzing party city with an edgy vibe, and at this time of year it’s visually stunning.
Victorian ChristmasVictorian Christmas
Victorian Christmas

There had been a blizzard the day before I arrived. With temperatures well below zero, on Thursday evening the snow lay all around, deep and crisp and even. In my head, I could almost hear choirs singing carols.

Even to an old member of the bah humbug club, the city was an idyllic picture postcard scene of winter beauty. Even if you are not a fan of the festive season, you have to admit that the Germans do it better than anyone else. They basically invented Christmas as we know it today.

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Most of our “traditional” Yuletide decorations and customs were introduced to Britain by Prince Albert in the 19th century. He was quite an innovative chap, Queen Victoria’s husband. We have him to thank not only for the Christmas tree, but also for unusual body-piercing in sensitive places.

Germany, like most other countries in central Europe, had their traditional Christmas street markets long before tawdry imitation “German” markets started springing up in every city in the UK.

Like any other large western city, Berlin has many homeless people sleeping on the streets. On previous visits I have noticed a large tented village underneath the railway bridge next to the station at Alexanderplatz. Last weekend, the tents were not there. Had they been moved out to accommodate the building of the nearby Christmas market?

Apparently not, according to a friend of mine who lives in Berlin. The city council run what are known as Kältebusse, or cold weather buses, which are on the road from November. These buses take care of people on the street who are in danger from the cold. If asked to do so, they will pick up homeless people on the street and take them to emergency shelters where they can sleep at night.

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Edinburgh’s housing crisis is all the more stark at this time of year, when homeless people are sleeping on Princes Street next to the glitz of the lights and the funfair.

In this “season of good will”, the cold weather bus is another German tradition we would do well to adopt here. Frohe Weihnachten. Merry Christmas.